Fresh Meat: The Rendition by Albert Ashforth

The Rendition by Albert Ashforth is a novel of international espionage and intrigue (available October 2, 2012).­

The job is a rendition—basically a secret government kidnapping of someone somebody else thinks is important or dangerous, keeping secrets or a threat. Someone like the underground leader of a revolutionary group who may become a cabinet member and might also have committed some war crimes.

Alex Klear has run renditions before. He’s just not so sure he wants to do it again. If nothing else, he’s sure the law of averages will catch up with him eventually. So, when the mission in Kosovo goes badly, he’s more than willing to quit altogether. Retired. Done.

But if things were that easy, books would be shorter, so next thing he knows he’s in Munich thinking too much about the past and trying to do a new job that may or may not be connected to the last one and may or may not land him in a German prison . . . if he survives long enough. And pretty Colonel Frost, who’s running this thing? She doesn’t care either way as long as it doesn’t tarnish her career.

Klear himself is kind of a slippery character. He comes off as both a badass special ops guy and a bumbling, heartbroken middle-aged man. And he might be both. Doing the math on some of his old missions, specifically those from the Cold War, Alex Klear is “seasoned” at best. He was operating in Germany when it was divided by The Wall and the book’s action is mostly set in 2008. The slippery aspect of his age and personality might make him a good black ops specialist, and it could make him hard to pin down as a character and narrator, but he comes across as mostly sympathetic, certainly more so than some of his coworkers. 

He surrounds himself with people who are so slimy they probably shouldn’t be trusted with even a second grader’s journal and yet he wants to, on some level, be a decent guy, to do the right thing or some approximation of it, which goes a long way toward redeeming him.

Why pick me? Again I came back to the same reason: I was expendable. When I asked Buck if I was being too paranoid, I got the answer I expected. “C’mon, Alex, in this business, there’s no such thing as ‘too paranoid.’ Remember how it was on the other side of the Wall? Waking up in the middle of the night thinking there were Stasi agents under the bed?”

“Or KGB agents outside the door? Remember Yalta?”

Buck grimaced. Yalta, where we vainly tried to recruit a vacationing staff officer in the KGB’s First Directorate, was another city from which we had to make a hurried departure by boat. Now that I think about it, I doubt that even one percent of the stuff that went on during the Cold War ever got into the papers. By the time the historians get around to writing things down, there won’t be anyone around to tell these stories, and everything will pretty much be forgotten.

Maybe it’s just as well. Buck said he’d continue to nose around on his end, and we said goodbye in front of the hotel. He definitely left me with the thought that I never should have accepted this assignment.

The structure feels like acts of a play or episodes of a television show. Each new mission, op, misstep, a new curtain rise; each completion—no matter the outcome—dimming of the lights and setting the scene for what’s to come. If nothing else, you want Klear to eventually complete enough tasks that he’s able to go home to his small town and ice business, provided he still wants to. Because something is happening to Klear. He’s realizing no matter how much he wants to fight against it, he is one of those people. He’s one of the ones who can’t be trusted. He’s one of the shadowy figures who does things and disappears. And if it doesn’t catch up to him he’ll probably keep right on doing them—lying to himself along the way. In fact, the book nearly ends before he comes close to deciding.

The scenery is much more detailed than the mission, so while trying to figure out who’s doing what to whom and why, you get a whirlwind tour of Germany and Kosovo along with remembered bits of Afghanistan and a short sojourn in the U.S.

It also has a certain “ripped from the headlines” (or maybe a “ripped from the conspiracy blogs”) feel, so if—after seeing the latest Ben Affleck film—you find yourself wanting to be part of a secret government mission in between episodes of Covert Affairs, pick up The Rendition.

See coverage of more new releases in our Fresh Meat series.

Neliza Drew is a tofu-eating teacher and erratic reader with a soft spot for crime fiction. She lives in the heat and humidity of southern Florida with three cats and her adorable hubby. She listens to way too much music, writes often, and spends too much time on Twitter (@nelizadrew).

Read all posts by Neliza Drew on Criminal Element.

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